People’s Press

The people's press (Owatonna, Minn.) 1874-1921 Browse the title

The People’s Press was founded on September 2, 1874 by Benjamin E. Darby as a four-page, eight-column paper. Originally from Canada, Darby had been a public school principal in Kasson, Minnesota before he moved to Owatonna to start the paper. In his first issue Darby promised to "stay, to succeed, to emphasize local affairs, and to be unsparing in his criticisms." He kept all those promises. The Press has the distinction of having the same editor in charge of every issue for 65 years from 1874 until 1939.

The People’s Press contained national, international, and Minnesota news, but was still distinctly a local paper. It was the first newspaper in Steele County and one of the first papers in Minnesota to gather local news from surrounding communities by sending out reporters instead of just relying on local correspondents. By visiting small towns in Steele, Freeborn, and Dodge Counties the People’s Press kept in close touch with the local news and residents, which also increased its circulation. Over time, the newspaper expanded to eight pages.

The People’s Press wielded a powerful influence. Even though Owatonna was predominantly Republican, the newspaper was considered "independent democratic" and recognized as one of the most active exponents of Democratic ideas in the State of Minnesota. The People’s Press stated that its goal was to be, "…a true representative of the farmers and workingmen and devoted to the interests of those who make an honest living…" The design was to make the Press truly the "people’s paper". During its long publication run it was named many times the official newspaper of Steele County.

Owatonna was a wheat and produce market for Steele County. There was also a strong dairy industry in the surrounding area. As the city grew, Owatonna became an active shipping and manufacturing point. The railroads arrived and contributed to its growth. Starting in 1866 Owatonna was the junction point for two railroads—and by 1900 a third railroad line reached the city. With more news and advertising to print, the People’s Press expanded to become a ten-page newspaper with the extra two pages pasted on at the back.

On March 13, 1903, Darby went into business with his sons, George F., Harry B., and William H. Darby. Up-to-date print machinery was installed and job printing became a larger part of the business. Beginning on March 1, 1916 a daily edition of the newspaper, the Daily People’s Press was begun by Darby and published simultaneously with the weekly edition. The weekly People’s Press eventually concluded its publication run on September 23, 1921.


Curtiss-Wedge, Franklyn, comp. History of Rice and Steele Counties Minnesota. Chicago: H.C. Cooper, Jr. & Co., 1916.

History of Steele and Waseca Counties, Minnesota. Chicago: Union Publishing Company, 1887.

"Benjamin Edwin Darby Dies Here Tuesday" and other articles. The Daily People’s Press, October 11, 1939, pg. 1-4.

"Daily People’s Press Absorbs Weekly and Predominates Field." The People’s Press, September 23, 1921, pg. 1.

Wesley, Edgar B. Owatonna: The Social Development of a Minnesota Community. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1938.